In a late-night meeting Wednesday, the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee approved and sent to the Senate a bill that limits the powers of state Attorney General Andy Beshear, a Democrat.
Beshear, who has had his run-ins with Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, called the bill “a power grab” by Bevin and said he would challenge it in court if it becomes law.
Beshear was particularly upset about the bill’s provision that only the governor can file an amicus curiae brief in courts on behalf of the state.
Such briefs, which in Latin means “friend of the court,” are filed when a person or group who is not a party to a lawsuit, but has a strong interest in the matter, asks the court for permission to submit a brief in the action with the intent of influencing the court’s decision.
Beshear said Kentucky would become the only state that gives a governor such authority.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, who presented to the committee the additional changes to House Bill 281, said the amicus brief provision “reflects the constitutional mandate that supreme executive authority resides in the governor.”
He said Beshear filed an amicus brief last year in a Hardin County right-to-work case that asserted a position of the state that was contrary to that of the General Assembly and the governor.
Stivers outlined other provisions added to the bill. They included mandating that attorney general contracts be subject to the legislature’s contract review panel, as other executive branch contracts are, and requiring the attorney general to notify the governor — as well as the Legislative Research Commission — when challenging the validity of a state law. The attorney general also must indicate his intention with respect to that challenge, Stivers said.
Earlier this month, Stivers presented a proposal to the Senate Judiciary Committee that would let the governor, not the attorney general , represent the state in some civil lawsuits. He presented a different proposal Wednesday night.
Beshear sued Bevin three times last year, challenging the governor’s authority to take various actions. He won one case, and the other two are pending.
Kentucky’s Supreme Court ruled in September that Bevin broke the law when he cut the budgets of some public colleges and universities without asking the legislature. And a state judge rebuked Bevin in a still-pending case for “flagrant abuse of executive power” for using state troopers to prevent the ousted chairman of the state’s retirement system from participating in a meeting.
Republicans said they need to reconsider Beshear’s duties because he hasn’t been representing the majority of Kentucky residents.
Beshear has said he wouldn’t defend the state’s ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, which the legislature approved in January, should it be challenged in court. He has said he will defend a new ultrasound law in court, but Republicans have accused him of failing to offer a vigorous defense.
In addition to approving the attorney general bill, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved and sent to the Senate House Bill 333, which is aimed at curbing the state’s opioid epidemic.
Among other things, the bill would limit Kentuckians to a three-day supply of prescription painkillers with certain exceptions, including treatment for chronic pain, cancer patients, hospice or end-of-life care or if a doctor thinks the patient needs more than a three-day supply and can document it in medical records.